Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Doldrums...

Along about mid-winter, I start considering the possibility that this lone-wolf survivalist shit isn't all it's cracked up to be. I stop bitching about the weather and start bitching about life in general. I start craving veggies. It has particularly come to my attention that my laziness during the previous summer was a more bitter mistake than I'd really considered it to be at the time, because it's possible to heat the Lair to the point where it's actually comfortable. I most certainly can't make that claim about the Interim Lair which is always cold. This is my fifth winter here but the first two don't really count because I had a townie job then. The third winter was an eye-opening bitch – there were times when I was genuinely afraid I'd freeze. Last winter wasn't so bad because I was making more money and had more transport than I needed, so I could burn propane any time I wanted to and my diet was better.

This winter the Lair is like a glaring reproach. Since I can heat it up and work in it I've been spending more time there, so in that sense it's an improvement. But the things that need doing before it's really habitable all involve digging in the dirt, and the dirt is frozen. So screw that. But I recently scored a case of light fixtures and Landlady brought up a bunch of CFL bulbs, so it's suddenly more important to me to finish enough of the paneling that I can get them installed. And frankly it gives me something to do.

According to the weather reports things aren't so bad, with sun every day and temps in the forties. What the reports don't mention is that it takes till mid-afternoon for it to actually get to the forties, and as soon as the sun hits the horizon the temperature crashes. So I spend most of the day trying to keep warm. I'm encouraged, though, by how well wood has been working out as a heat source. I'm a city boy, and never heated with wood in my life. I've been in houses with fireplaces, but they're really just d├ęcor accents. It's cool to sit by a fire in the evening, and I've had some games on a hearth rug that are a source of pleasant memories, but fireplaces – at least modern ones – don't really heat a room. The Lair's wood stove is an ugly, utilitarian iron box that even the most hormone-driven couldn't find romantic, but once that iron heats up the Lair becomes most delightfully warm. This time of year I count temperature in terms of clothing layers and I sleep in a heavy coat. “Comfortable” means my toes and fingers don't hurt. It's a drag. But an hour's work with a chainsaw gives me days worth of wood that keeps the Lair in the seventies without effort. The seventies! Imagine! Walking around with not even a sweater on. It seems quite decadent. Juniper is the sweetest-smelling wood I've ever burned, and it's plentifully available, and it's free.

I do need to learn how to properly sharpen a chainsaw blade with a file, though. Juniper is full of sand and pure hell on chains. There are some consumables involved, but not a lot. That little engine sips gasoline and mix oil, and bar oil doesn't cost a lot. But chains are an expense and so is getting them professionally sharpened. Running them dull stretches them, and a stretched chain is very hard on the bar and drive sprockets. I got a good deal on a good saw, but new parts are very expensive. So sharp is good. I knew that year and a half I spent in town fixing chainsaws was going to come in handy – Even as a city boy, I'm in better shape to depend on a chainsaw than I would otherwise be because I understand the ways the saw depends on me.

The boys have settled into their winter routine, and they're hardly any trouble at all. They're happy as long as they're warm, fed and loved, and they don't insist on warm. They gave me a bit of a grumble yesterday morning: We took a long walk that paused at the Lair because I wanted to build a fire, come back and work later. When I came out they were gone and didn't answer me. I called and called, then decided to see what would happen if I abandoned them there. I walked home alone, calling from time to time and getting no answer. I had a ciggie, checked my emails, then fired up the Jeep and drove back through the wash. They met me at M's dome which told me they'd come back to the cabin, found me gone, and were working their way back home looking for me. They thought they were going to get a Jeep ride, but I'm sick of rewarding them for misbehavior. So they had to run all the way back to the Lair, chasing the Jeep, and when we got there they were oddly content to stay where they were supposed to be. Funny how that works.

Now and then I have to remind myself that as much of a drag as the winter can be I'm in much better shape than I was before. After that third winter you could have used my ribs for a xylophone. Now I've got a pressure cooker so I can cook beans even at this altitude, and when Claire split for wetter climes she abandoned a whole bunch of out-of-date canned goods I haven't even begun to deplete. I'm getting pretty darned good at bean pots. I've still got most of that chicken I canned a month ago, and right now I'm flush with butter and veggies. Last night I had a big skillet of chicken fried rice. Luxury! I've got two pounds of new yeast so the bread is behaving itself. Things could sure be worse. With the Lair's stove working I'm not cold all the time. But I'm still tired of being cold.

As I'm writing this it's about seven in the morning. I'm gonna brew a second cup, (second brew on the beans because I'm rationing coffee) cook some breakfast, then go out to the scriptorium and post it. If you've noticed there haven't been many morning posts, it's because it's too bloody cold in there to type much. I tried running a propane heater but the spare I've got uses 'way too much gas and doesn't do a lot of good anyway. So I mostly internet in the afternoon now.

More later.


Matt said...


The best wood stove my parents ever had is and ugly iron box welded up by a freind. It outperforms the expensive stove that originally came with their house. It will heat about 800 square feet to 90 degrees with little effort. It will hold a firebox of wood and give out heat all night long.

I have a friend staying in the mountains right now and he would agree about the temps. The canyon he is in only gets about two hours of direct sunlight. He says he is getting tired of hiking to the hilltops to get warm, but is not tired enough to go into town.

suek said...

The Germans have a saying I can't really remember, but it's to the effect that wood warms you twice - once when you cut it and once when you burn it...

They usually cut the wood with a hand saw, using a brace to hold the wood. I don't remember just exactly how it was designed, but it was like two Xs with your piece to be cut resting on the crosspiece. What I can't remember is how it was joined so that you could cut through without cutting through the joining piece...

The Grey Lady said...

Joel: Totally off topic..again. But I'm thinking this is what Obama's Presidential kill switch on the internet is gonna look like.

Egypt kills virtually all internet access during riots.

Joel said...

It's called a sawbuck, Suek. Very useful if you're hauling logs to your place to be cut to size there. A couple of neighbors have them. Best to hang the part you want to cut off the end, because - especially with a chainsaw - it is very possible to cut important bits off the sawbuck before you realize you've done it.

I know this, because... :^(

KurtP said...

Joel- you can probably buy the whole jig and file for about $15-20,,, unless you want a high tech electric multi-angle-grinder kind of thing.

If the wood is small enough, have you thought about a circular saw with a demo blade?

Plug Nickel Outfit said...

Like KurtP says - the jig and file isn't expensive and it's a pretty straightforward job. Several years ago when I realised that I needed to do my own sharpening I was able to get enough info from these intertubes to figure it out - and that was without YouTube, Shockwave, or Flash.

You'd just need some basic info as to file size and angle of tooth cut and you're pretty much set. I just use a workbench with a vise attached to hold the bar steady. Do all the teeth facing one direction - flip the saw over and do the opposite teeth - use a sharpie or such to mark your beginning points - and within 10-15 minutes you're all set. Unless you've some serious dings in the teeth it only takes 3-5 strokes per tooth to get the edge back. The jig I have that's attached to the file has the various angles marked on it so it's not difficult at all. The only thing I don't mess with at this point is the depth of the tooth cut - but that's not all that difficult either.

Something else that might help... I usually tighten up the chain for sharpening much more than I'd ever run the saw with - less slop when you're filing - and then readjust the chain tension back once I'm done.